MANILA — A migrant group in the Middle East believes that officials of the Philippine embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, duped an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) rape victim into believing that her case was weak and that it was to her interest to settle it “amicably.”
Migrante International-Middle East regional coordinator John Leonard Monterona, said Sofia (not her real name) was crying over the phone when she asked for the group’s help to file a case against her project manager who raped her sometime in September 2010. Aside from being raped, Sofia is also a victim of contract substitution, illegal salary deductions, poor accommodations and verbal and physical harassment.
Sofia works for Annasban, a company in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia against which a suspension of job orders was issued by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) in April 2010 for the same violations.
Monterona said he endorsed Sofia’s case to the Philippine embassy, as well as her request for legal assistance so that she could file a case. The Migrante national office based in Quezon City wrote letters to various government agencies and to the United Placement Phils, Inc., Sofia’s recruitment agency, to assist her in filing the case and for her repatriation.
“But I was surprised when [I found out that] she settled her case amicably upon the advice of the Philippine embassy,” Monterona said. He added that the copy of the affidavit was issued after a Philippine Overseas Labor Office case officer visited her at the company’s quarters.
According to Sofia’s affidavit,Philippine embassy officials explained that they would support and assist her whenever she would formally file the rape case against her project manager Makmod Salem. But, in the affidavit, Sofia also wrote that she “understands that her case is weak for lack of evidence” and that she chooses to enter into an amicable settlement provided that Annasban company would take disciplinary actions against him (Salem) and compensate her for moral and physical damages.
In her affidavit, Sofia demanded the termination of Susan Picaso, an administration staff of Annasban. Sofia said that Picaso grabbed her face resulting in a scratch on her cheek when she first told her about the rape case in September last year. Sofia would also like Annasban company to investigate and hold Picaso responsible for injuring her.
Monterona said they were later informed that the “affidavit was dictated to her [Sofia] by an embassy official” and that the absence of the signature of the concerned Philippine embassy official in the said affidavit “underscores the insincerity of the embassy in helping her pursue her case against the culprit, adding that Sofia was “duped to believe that her case is weak, instead of helping her build her case against the alleged rapist manager.”
The Department of Foreign Affairs, in a report, claimed that they have “vigorously assisted” Sofia. Embassy Third Secretary and Vice Consul Roussel Reyes said Sofia asked assistance from the embassy four months after the alleged rape took place. “In this regard, the embassy informed Sofia that if she wanted to continue the case, despite the time that has lapsed, the embassy would readily assist her,” Reyes said, “The nature and the procedure of the case, as well as its consequences, were clearly explained to her.”
The report also claimed that it was Sofia who decided that it would be “in her best interests to instead negotiate a settlement. She freely and voluntarily made her decision without any interference from the embassy.”
“The embassy will never force someone to arrive at a decision, or even dictate what a person should do, as doing so will violate the rights of the Filipinos it seeks to help in their times of distress,” the DFA said, denying that Sofia’s affidavit was not signed by a consular officer of the Philippine embassy in Riyadh.
“We are standing by the statement we had issued that indeed she has been forced to amicably settle her case as per the advice of the Philippine embassy in Riyadh,” Monterona said, “Such uncaring, devious, and anti-OFW stance in handling her case by the Philippine embassy is condemnable in the strongest terms. OFWs do not deserve the slack services of embassy officials, they must be sacked from their respective positions.” (Janess Ann J. Ellao / )